31 October, 2007

Halloween frolics

Redhill Bus station
Well, here we are again, only this time I'm back home late enough to have caught just the tail end of the cute bit - the decent local families personally taking their adorable little ones, all dressed up nicely, to politely enquire if we would like to give them a treat (please) with no possible threat of a trick anywhere in their arsenal (or intention)...although some do try and pinch more than their fair share, even with Mum and Dad looking on... ;)

Perhaps next year though, let's try and leave the inbred, goonish hooded teens in their shackles until after we have handed them back their "five for a quid" style cigarette lighters and poured petrol all over their heap of illegally purchased fireworks...you have no place in this curious American import, spotted-ones, especially so if your idea of a Halloween costume is a hooded top, a can of White Lightning and a cheap, tinny mobile phone crackling out unintelligible drum and bass (as was happening over much of Redhill)...

Happy Halloween...*cackle*... >;)

30 October, 2007

Birley Salt Beef, Canary Wharf - review

Birley Salt Beef #1
I've only been here a few days but I'm *still* coming out of the wrong entrances, the place is so huge, and I've played so many complex "run and gun" games over *all* the systems over all these happy years that I really should be completely *flawless* at finding my way from "here" to "there" in totally unfamiliar 3d environments (even on my first or second run)...so rather than be a little baffled by my lack of orientation, I'm personally blaming it on several factors -
  1. Much of it looks the same (and I got lost (from time to time) in Turok (and before that Hexen) which both had woefully few textures too) and the environment one must initially encompass is frankly huge...
  2. You have to move between both over and under ground to make the various waypoints required for the careful commute, so landmarks are often initially awkward and occasionally appear from unexpected angles...
  3. Every time you accidentally make a wrong turn, annoyingly, more tempting shops appear..!
- anyway, for lunch, I couldn't resist the Birley Sandwich store (very close to base, and I knew the way), and my goodness did they do a good job -
Birley Salt Beef #2
- aspect aside, as it's a little hard to improve on the New York variety, but this was perfectly as generous, a thousand times as exciting (thanks to the positively nose-popping mustard dressing) and the perfectly flavoured gherkin (although imperfectly sliced) that sat alongside....It looked completely amazing, and the queue vanished in almost no time at all...and the cost was about the same as the now obviously super lame Ixxys....

It was (unfortunately) already rather cold by the time I found my seat by the smokers near the entrance to the tube station, but it had lost *none* of it's charm from the short walk...

*Wonderful*... ;)

Tomorrow I'll try and shoot the view out the window, sounds like I'm allowed... ;)

29 October, 2007

Welcome to Canary Wharf!

Canary Wharf #1
...and this is where I now work! Amazing...and it's photogenic too (from the right angles) -
Canary Wharf #5
- (see!) the Jubilee line is probably the most civilised on the tube network, with it's plastic shielding and automatic doors to stop anyone falling (or jumping) onto the platform, but the TFL journey time estimate of 7 minutes from London Bridge to "the Wharf" hasn't actually come true yet, taking more like 20 minutes (on average), but compare the conditions and grown up attitude of the patrons (yes, I am speaking of you, Victoria Line and Northern Line users) it really is a breath of fresh air, and *still* a way quicker transfer across London than either the Thameslink (now renamed First Capital Connect, sorry...) or the eternally unreliable bus network (although that is *much* cheaper admittedly)...

Today I took a little walk around the area, just to get my bearings, there is *loads* of security around the place -
Canary Wharf #4
- and it's pretty chaotic and super busy, just take a massive concentration of some of the biggest offices in London, and add on an underground sprawl of quality shops and bespoke restaurants to rival the best shopping streets in the capital, truly 24 hour operation (sorry, but New York *does* go to sleep, despite what the residents like to claim, I've been there and seen it shut on numerous occasions) and you end up with something quite unique...top it with the view from my office window overlooking the millennium dome (or the O2, if you like), with the Thames barrier in the background (no shot though, in my 1 hour-long security briefing they listed one of the reasons that sides of the building could be evacuated as someone spotting a photographer taking a picture from one of the other offices! We shall see though, might be able to snap one using a mobile or something, that shouldn't scare anyone too much)... ;)
Canary Wharf #3
Actually in our office (which sprawls over several floors) we have a 24 hour restaurant, a free gym (that looks out on the same view as me), a free solarium(!), and obviously free newspapers (but you have to get in pretty early in the morning to score one (as they vanish fast)!
Canary Wharf #2
Anyway, it's all going well...the place is incredible, it's just getting used to the slightly different commute... ;)

28 October, 2007

Toilet paper habits in Corfu

Corfu 2007 - #8
Oh yes, one thing I forgot to mention about Corfu, the dreadful habit they have in that part of the world for disallowing the flushing away of toilet paper, and instead asking you to put it in a little bin next to the bowl...quite disgusting, but as our rep said - "The Greeks may have invented modern plumbing, but they got pretty far from perfecting it", he also cautioned "I suggest you don't try a sneaky flush either, as you may not like what comes back up to say hello"...*shudder*...

I was, however amused (and surprised) to read in a bar toilet (sorry, no picture) in Acharavi a sign reading "English Plumbing, Flush away!", so why, when building a new resort (Blue Bay Escape is only a few years old), didn't they fit facilities circa (say, at least) the 20th century?

Almost makes me wonder if it's a sick joke on the tourists and at home the locals all have these wonderful glistening affairs that you can confidently flush a 'phone book down... ;)

26 October, 2007

Welcome back to England...

Welcome home...
Rain rain rain...bleugh...just lucky I was backing up all my photos and found some nice pictures of the garden from the summer that I had forgotten about (just to cheer us up) -
Summer Flowers #2
Summer Flowers #1
- oh and out of interest, I was rather shocked to discover that since the 5th of May (when I got the new camera) I have taken over 9000 photographs(!), that's 21.7Gb of data to burn...urk!

25 October, 2007

Ring-Necked Parakeet, Oxted

Parrots in the Garden #2
Check this out - my folks have got a couple of rare Ring-necked Parakeets that come to visit the bird feeders in the garden! Rumour has it that there were a number of escapees from Gatwick Zoo when it closed down back in 2002...I don't think anyone really expected them to survive, but they have adapted by stealing Green Woodpecker nests to hide in (not ideal for the native population, admittedly) but an amazing sight for a chilly autumn day in Surrey! ;)

23 October, 2007

Blue Bay Apartment Hacks...

...and goodbye to the island...when we got back to the resort that evening the skies were looking decidedly nasty -
Corfu 2007 - #163
- the wind was really picking up, so much so that the pool bar had been completely abandoned and black plastic bags attached securely to anything sensitive with gaffa tape -
Corfu 2007 - #164
- and all the pool umbrellas were down and tied with rope, in the end the wind got so strong that the balcony furniture was being blown over, so I turned it all over and stacked it in the corner -
Corfu 2007 - #172
- it's only worth watching the first second or two of this video we took using Flyingpops camera, but it gives you an idea of the spectacle and the mood in the resort as our paradise turned angry, the next morning I went around and shot the apartment, just to tell you one or two essentials you will need (if you choose to visit the same place)-
Corfu 2007 - #166
Corfu 2007 - #167
- number one, there are no bath plugs...so bring one if you think you are going to fancy a soak (we did)-
Corfu 2007 - #165
- and number two, while there *is* air conditioning, the remote controls are behind perspex shields, luckily I happened to have packed my Leatherman Wave (although a screwdriver will do just fine) to rescue them from bondage...the only hack we didn't manage was to keep the power on when you leave the apartment (as the minute you take the key from the slot everything turns off), so if you wish to be even more organised than us, my *guess* would be that you will need a disc magnet about the size of a ten pence piece and about the width of a pound coin, glue it to a lolly stick and insert that instead of the key fob (I did try with various other objects and eliminated pretty much every other possible solution), I would be interested to hear if it works! ;)

Another thing to note is, before this blustery night we went to (and in my experience the only ever) leaving meeting with the reps...they had tried (and succeeded) to get most people to pre-book their seats home at the welcome meeting (we couldn't as we needed extra leg room) in order to reduce the queue for check in...but it was a colossal waste of everyone's money, as it turns out the queue to actually check in is really short anyway (loads of desks considering the number of people on the coach), so there was absolutely no need to skip it, the *real* problem is the queue for passport control (and *what* a queue) -
Corfu 2007 - #177
- if we thought Gatwick was bad...this queue runs the entire length of the *outside* of the airport!! Hack-wise though, you actually don't need to even queue up, while we patiently waited in line a succession of reps came running up the line calling for all the people trapped therein and whisked them to the front so they didn't miss their flight! So, if you feel like being cheeky, just go and have a pint in the bar above passport control while everyone else gets grumpy in the queue and then act all surprised when they call out your name and take the fast track... ;)
Corfu 2007 - #178
The only last thing to say, James, the First Choice rep did confess that we had got extremely lucky with the weather coming as out of season as we did, so perhaps travel out a couple of weeks earlier if you want an absolute promise of sunshine, as we probably should have had thunder storms and rain for the whole break!

Anyway, we couldn't possibly have asked for anything better for £200 a head, so thank you lady luck for smiling upon us (for once)! ;)

22 October, 2007

Aqualand, Corfu

And so to the last full day of the holiday, and it was with some surprise that we awoke to gentle rain (still about 28 degrees though) having had glorious sunshine all week, however, luckily we had booked up a trip to the biggest water park on the island (and rain is no problem if you are planning to be getting wet anyway!)...we were the first pick up, the coach was as on time as usual, but we were quite used to that by this stage. The driver (who looked a bit like Sawyer from LOST) was extremely friendly, but his grasp of English was cursory at best, this didn't deter him from nattering away for about the first 20 minutes of the journey, during which time I *think* we got the following bits of information from him -
  1. He is married, and his wife is pregnant (that was indicated mostly by miming)
  2. They are moving to England shortly as you can earn much more money being a coach driver in the UK, plus UK coach drivers are reluctant to work the 12 hour shifts that really bring in the cash (he is more than happy to)
  3. He doesn't mind the cold, as long as his pockets are full of money
  4. Aqualand (during peak season) can have as many as 5000 visitors a day, from 10 resort towns over the island and queues for the slides can take as long as two hours(!)
  5. Roads in Corfu are extremely dangerous in the wet
- we stopped at a couple of other places to pick up a small number of further brave souls, and barring one quick stop along the way for a young German lad to go for a pee (the coach driver told him to just find a bush "All Corfu is toilet, it's natural! Where dog go, you go!"), we finally pulled into the completely empty car park at Aqualand...we basically had the entire place to ourselves...!

So, after paying for a "Family sized" locker for the day (it was barely big enough for 2 rucksacks, let alone all the crap a family would be carrying around for a day out!), we got changed and then headed to the nearest slides (absolutely no queues at all anywhere in the entire park!) -
Corfu 2007 - #144
- goodness only knows why, but the first slides we went for were the ones right at the top of the tallest tower, were also the narrowest pipes, and the one that I went for turned out to be a "Black Hole", and the rail you normally use to get some speed up was missing...I did have second thoughts as I was staring into the darkness, and even looked back, a little concerned that there was no life guard on duty, but threw myself in (as best I could) none-the-less...and just as I had passed the first bend (so I was in *total* blackness) I came to a complete halt...

I'm a bit claustrophobic, and this was the stuff of absolute nightmares, no-one above me to stop anyone else diving in and hitting me, total blackness, the muffled sound crashing water and feeling it building up behind me, hands slipping on the plastic, scratching desperately in order to shift myself down and what seemed like an eternity later I managed to drag myself to the next slope, where suddenly things got very steep indeed followed by 90 seconds of bedlam and then, thank goodness, daylight...where Flyingpops was standing wondering what on earth had happened to me (we should have learned by this to stay away from the tubes where you can't see what's going on...but more of that later) -
Corfu 2007 - #149
- it quickly became obvious that by far the best rides were the ones where you were allowed to use a two person "inflatable family raft" (as the rides went *much* *much* quicker with the weight of two plus gravity), but we had a go on everything, I suppose the place must have had about 25 different tube rides of various sizes and speeds from the insane vertical drop rides (that just *hurt*) all the way to the "Crazy River" (complete with 3 crash pools on the way down that tend to end up turning you backwards!) -
Corfu 2007 - #161
- confidence regained (despite difficulties with some extremely "Slippery Sarfaces"), and after Flyingpops had tried the much larger inflatable-only "Black Hole" with a single ring and come out saying it was completely tame, we thought we would try it on a two seater...big mistake...we were going so fast by the time we got to the last turn that Flyingpops lived up to her name and completely flew off the raft as we almost past horizontal on the side, smashing down into the tube (a fall of about 1.5 meters) head first, but also banging her hip, and after this, the raft and I basically ran her over and ended up driving her out of the tube and pushing her right under the surface into the landing pool-
Corfu 2007 - #151
-suffice it to say we decided enough was enough (having done about 40 rides in the space of an hour) we were knackered and Flyingpops was a bit dazed, so we hopped into the "Lazy River" for about 20 minutes to ride back to the other side of the park and then spent a similar amount of time in the wave pool (the third biggest wave pool in the world!), and it really did make some incredibly large waves (way over two meters), people were being thrown from their rubber rings!-
Corfu 2007 - #148
- After this we had a little wander around, to see what else there was around the place, and one of the most amazing things was the kids "Pirate Adventure", every 90 seconds or so -
Corfu 2007 - #153
- a massive container filled with water and tipped over absolutely covering everything, I have *no* doubt at all that if it hit a small child then they would be knocked completely off their feet by the force of the wave...did look like a lot of fun though... -
Corfu 2007 - #154
- there were three "Adventure pools" with stepping stones, slides -
Corfu 2007 - #156
- and even a giant jacuzzi, but by this stage we had started to feel a little hungry -
Corfu 2007 - #157
- Hmmm, yes, looks like something out of "Theme park world" doesn't it... ;)-
Corfu 2007 - #158
- the food though was superb (as long as you avoided the "burger and chips" or "pizza" options), my rotisserie plate was packed with tender meat in a fresh pitta, and accompanied by an excellent salad (not quite sure why it took them 15 minutes to prepare it though, not exactly "fast" food) -
Corfu 2007 - #159
- anyway, once we had let the food go down we repeated a few of the rides, then got changed (nursing our pruned hands) and back to the resort to enjoy our last night... ;)

21 October, 2007

Horse Riding in the sea, Kalamaki, Corfu

Corfu 2007 - #123
Ah, now one of the real highlights of the break, horse riding over the hills at Kalamaki beach (and actually riding the horses into that crystal clear ocean, like something out of a movie!)...we decided to compare prices between the First Choice offerings and the local agent (pictured above), it's really easy to find, just leave the Blue Bay resort by the gate just at the side of the pool bar, turn left, walk about 100 yards and it's just to the left of the little supermarket (it of the inflatables), be warned though, it's only open for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening (but it's so near the resort it's not like you will have wasted much time if you find it closed)...anyway, suffice it to say, the trips were all *considerably* cheaper from the independent place by the beach, so if you are going to be making any trips out, this is definitely the place to come-
Corfu 2007 - #124
At the pre-arranged time, Flyingpops and I walked down to the travel agent and sat waiting to be picked up (it's quite normal, by the way, for any form of scheduled transport you are expecting in Corfu to be anything up to twenty minutes late) but we were more than a little suprised when a guy turned up in a tiny, battered white hatchback (forget a coach, we weren't even afforded a taxi for this trip!) and waved to us from the window yelling "Horses!", at which Flyingpops gave me a Spock-type look and muttered "You *have* to be joking"...
Corfu 2007 - #125
Anyway, he was a nice chap, and we quickly warmed to him, largely thanks to his English being excellent, and the fact that his smile was infectious, the place itself was actually nearer the resort even than Kassiopi, so within ten minutes flat we found ourselves in a narrow wooded valley, leaving any sign of apartments behind, and then pulling into a beautiful, ancient olive grove-
Corfu 2007 - #138
Corfu 2007 - #126
Corfu 2007 - #127
- fitted out with the appropriate headgear -
Corfu 2007 - #128
- allocated to horses (it *could* be my imagination but I thought mine looked back at me with a bit of a "put out" sort of face at having to carry quite so much weight) -
Corfu 2007 - #133
- and we were then given a crash course in horse-steering (I've been riding before, but many, many years ago and as part of a stable (so the horses just kind of automatically followed the one in front without you having too much say in the matter), this was different)...it was really interesting to have an animal just do exactly what you wanted and just when you wanted it, we were the only two people on this particular trip, well, us and our guide -
Corfu 2007 - #130
- a really friendly Brit ex-pat who had married a local, explained that one had to "be firm" with the horses (as they understood very well when someone didn't know what they were doing and would take liberties), but also make sure that we kept a safe distance between each other (so they didn't feel under pressure), we set a leasurely pace, climbing to the top of one of the local peaks, our guide pointing out local flora and fauna and when we had spectacular views, he pointed out the landmarks, then we made our way down to the beach, just as the sun was starting to set, and we urged our horses into the ocean, where we sat, listening to the gentle sound of the waves hitting the shore and watched the sun creep behind the mountains -
Corfu 2007 - #131

20 October, 2007

Kassiopi, Corfu - in pictures

Okay, so this time we headed eastwards along the northern coast of Corfu from the Blue Bay Escape Resort to the only major town in that direction -Kassiopi- it's a slightly longer journey in the minibus-
Corfu 2007 - #83
-(still only about 15 minutes though), travelling from the Blue Bay out to Kassiopi at 0930hrs, 1000hrs, 1900hrs and 1930hrs, and going back in the opposite direction at 1130hrs, 1200hrs, 2130hrs and 2200hrs. Remember, you will need to reserve your seat at reception in advance, and these particular trips fill up fast, so make sure you book your place early-
Corfu 2007 - #85
- you are dropped off right at the top of the high street, if you follow it down about 200 yards you will come to a road off to the left (just by the supermarket, which incidentally is smaller and more expensive than the one in Acharavi), follow this for a few more shops -
Corfu 2007 - #92
- vast majority are either tourist, clothing, shoe or leather goods, with the odd olive wood shop (this particular one was all hand-carved by the shop owner's son) and restaurants, but they peter out after about half a kilometre, however, if you carry on heading slightly downhill you will eventually find yourself at the real gem at the heart of Kassiopi (and what kept us going back), the amazing (and still working) harbour -
Corfu 2007 - #120
- mostly full of fishing vessels, but a few tourist and pleasure launches populated the walls also, and here we sat, watching the sunset until the street lights drew their patterns on the gentle waves-
Corfu 2007 - #91
- to be honest, the food could have been terrible (there are about 12 restaurants that share the fantastic view) but it really wouldn't have mattered...
Corfu 2007 - #121
-(I even let the "Chicken Gordon-Bleu" pass with a mere half-smile before my gaze returned happily to the calming shimmer)-
Corfu 2007 - #122
- for my dinner that night I decided to go for the Stifado (a traditional Greek dish of pork in a red wine sauce with shallots (and in this case, chips...)), very nice, but they did the exact same thing at the Blue Bay resort for lunch the next day and it was just as tasty...oh well, it was only 6 euros for the plateful!

Anyway, we stayed for a very enjoyable, and extremely peaceful couple of drinks (even when the Blue Bay was virtually empty there was still a pronounced difference in the noise levels between there and here), then wandered back up through the shops, passing various places advertising morning fare -
Corfu 2007 - #93
- including the "Little Britain Big Breakfast 'I want that one!'"...not entirely sure it's been officially sponsored or approved by Messrs Lucas and Walliams, but it does look like the sort of thing Mr Lucas might be found enjoying if he came into Kassiopi for a visit... ;)

In a nutshell, it's the biggest resort on the north coast, and also quite the prettiest, lots and lots of places to eat and drink all of which were still open and reasonably busy even this late in the season, this place deserves more than one evening of your attention, most certainly... :)